So let’s head towards China. We’ve got a visa, all we need is balls. As to take our motorbikes inside is way beyond our budget, we are going to simply ride along the semi-clandestine fence that the Chinese have recently installed into the Tajik territory. The day is fiercely bright.
East off Murghab we find ourselves into our prime territory yet again. A vast network of gravel roads and trails where the only signs of life are the remains of an almost mythical creature. The Marco Polo gazelles, endemic to the region, are at the same time an endangered species protected by the law and worshiped by the shamanic traditions, and a highly appreciated source of proteins for certain Kyrgyz, or of virility for wealthier Chinese.
We picnic on the edge of a meteorite crash site. While munching on eggs and cucumber, we meet a group of miners who are digging in the area for silver.
The silver will be exported to China. Soon we are meters from this country. The place is infested with cute golden marmots, but the trails are sandy, until all we see is desert among cliffs.
We must look kind of tired, as Adil, a local yak herder insists we should come to his place for a good night rest. I have fresh all natural yak dairy, he says, and who are we to argue with such an offer?
Beyond a stream we reach Adil’s mountain cabin. It’s a two room mud-and-dung hut where this nomad family is just about to relocate for the rest of the summer. Their cattle has been moved on this jailoo, to enjoy the rich pastures where the yaks will feel and fatten until winter. Behind the house is the fenced area where the cows are resting until the elder sun arrives with the rest of the herd. The boy is not even 13 years old, but already a proper cowboy.
The Uluu-Ruslan family is sharing the jailoo and the cabin with Janna, Adil’s sister in law. Janna has the hands of a piano player, that thread and bake two ovens of fresh bread. The fuel for their tandoori is (of course) yak dung.
Adil gives instructions that we should be treated as family. Warm bread is torn to pieces and laid before us in a gesture of hospitality that has become so dear to us. Yak kefir, butter and cream are set aside, followed by a steaming teapot. We grab a delicious bite, then we join the family at their evening activities. The yak herd is to be set for the night. Calves must be separated from their mothers so the cows can be milked. Bulls are tied far from the cows. Milk is to be poured into different recipients, according to how it will be later processed. Dung is to be collected and set out to dry for later use as fuel. There’s plenty of work to be done, and Adil sorts everything out with joy and swagger.
Inside, the women are reorganizing their belongings. A few cardboard boxes become furniture, teapots, a DVD player, even a puzzle are ranged neatly to their place. Already it no longer looks like a deserted refuge but like a proper home. But what brings the whole place alive is the children’s energy.
Adil’s youngest seems to enjoy spending time in Ana’s lap.
Janna’s youngest is a boy
Madina, demure, in spite of her accidentally punk haircut
Adil’s oldest daughter loves to play with her siblings
The eldest of the gang. He teaches us so much: from what kind of plants to use to prevent excessive perspiration and such, to how to say some essentials in kyrgyz language.
Dinner is ready. We feast again on kefir, next to a melt in your mouth yak steak, with roasted potatoes and buttered buckwheat. Unbelievably good!
As sun sets the temperature drops severely. Janna folds out fresh pillows and new bed sheets for us. I don’t know what we did to ever deserve such generous hospitality. We sleep like babies in a mother’s womb.
The next day we are already settled in the family. Ana helps with bread baking and children rearing, I entertain the older kids with sketches and games. In the afternoon I decide ti unload the KTM and ride into China, through a hole in the fence. It’s all good, until I spot watchful binoculars in the distance. Time to head back to safety, back at the house, where the ladies are waiting for me with yet another yummy meal.
While I was away Ana has been persuaded by Janna to pay a visit to the old folks, who live in Ronkhul. Janna writes a letter for her mum and dad, which will also serve us to find the address.
When it’s time to say our good-byes, the women are in tears. Frankly, my eyes are also far from dry.
Luckily the trails back to the main road are what the doctor has ordered.
After we arrive back in Murghab we take the next turn right, and we hit another fine gravel road that will take us to Ronkhul. We pass by a string of lakes that mirror the eerie landscape, but impossibly infested with mosquitoes.
Ronkhul feels like from another planet. Compared to this remote village, Murghab was a busy metropolis.
Janna’s note in hand, we navigate our way to her family compound. A 65 old lady opens the door: when she sees her daughter’s handwriting, her eyes wet. We make her even happier with the photo of her youngest nephew, whom she sees for the very first time. Of course we are again treated with immense hospitality. The spread: choromo, a special kyrgyz bread baked in butter, kefir, fruits, tea.
Janna’s father, Tahtaul, tells that that he has actually seen us two days ago, while strolling around Murghab. It’s a small world, isn’t it.
The elder soon retreat, allowing us to socialize with the younger members of the family. As always, the women are busy to serve us, and only the men join us for dinner and tea. We spend all day with Muhammat and Osor, Janna’s brothers.
The Kyrgyz zodiac is similar to the Chinese.
The next day we are set to go. It’s a pleasant ride back to the tarmac, but before hitting tar my side stand gives up. I hop onto Ana’s DRZ and head to Murghab to weld the cracked plate. One hour later I’m back and the KTM re-assumes vertical position.
The road ahead cuts across more amazing Pamiri domes, until we arrive at the highest point of our Central Asia journey, the Ak-Baytal pass, at over 4600meters.
But we will not leave the Pamir mountains behind without reuniting with our cyclists friends, even if that’ll costs us a fine layer of snow on our tent…